Liu Ruo-yu (劉若瑀) is the founder and artistic director of U-Theater (優人神鼓), a contemporary performance group based in Taiwan, and the 2008 recipient of the National Award for Arts. She introduced the practice of searching for the very root of performance art and drawing out the spirit of eastern culture to Taiwan's theater scene.
Influenced by her father, an entertainment officer who was responsible for leisure and recreation for military personnel, Liu developed an interest in theater during her childhood. After receiving a degree in theater from the Chinese Culture University, Liu performed as part of the Lanlin Theatre Troupe (蘭陵劇坊) and hosted TV shows for children.
Liu attended New York University to study theater in 1982, and began her one-year training with innovative Polish theater director Jerzy Grotowski in 1983. The training, which took place at a ranch in Los Angeles, focused on Grotowski's experimental practice of exploring the physical, spiritual, and ritualistic aspects of theater. The experience has since changed Liu's attitude toward theater.
Inspired by Grotowski's unique approach, Liu returned to Taiwan and began a series of her own experiments, such as learning aboriginal rituals and folk arts to search for the ethnic roots of theatrical performance, exploring the role of nature in mankind's history, and discovering her true self.
In 1988, Liu established U-Theater and developed a unique training method that combined techniques acquired from martial arts, tai chi dao yin, folk arts, and religious rituals with those developed by Grotowski.
In 1993, U-Theater began to diversify its approach towards theater when Huang Chih-chun (黃誌群), a drumming choreographer, joined the troupe. Huang introduced meditation he learned from his trip to India and coached troupe members to practice retrospection, find tranquility of mind, and reach the state of integrating one's life with art.
U-Theater has since produced works that combine martial arts and drumming, staging its unique performances across the world and receiving critical acclaim.
The New York Times has praised its 2003 performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater, noting that "there is a great and complex beauty to the drumming, sounds and silence and simple beats and intricate meshes of precisely articulated rhythms.”
In addition to managing the troupe, Liu has also published a book titled "Liu Rou-yu's 36 Performing Lessons (劉若瑀的36堂表演課).” Encompassing three decades of her life, the 2011 semi-autobiographical release maps out her theatrical and personal journey before and after U-Theater.
The book contains many epiphanies in life and theater, with which Liu hopes to inspire members of the younger generation to explore the essence of performing arts and one's relationship with oneself and nature.